Robert Molesworth (1656-1725)

Life
[1st. Baron], b. Fishamble St., Dublin; son of a merchant adventurer receiving land by Cromwellian settlement; ed. TCD; his father a parliamentarian, he himself became an ardent supporter of William III, 1688-90; had seats at Brackenstown, Co. Dublin, and Edlington, Yorkshire confiscated and reinstated; ambassador extraordinary to Denmark 1689 and 1692; gave serious offence to the Danish court with his pamphlet publication An account of [the State of] Denmark as it was in the Year (1692), an attempt to point out the threat of absolutism though praised by Shaftesbury and well received by the Whigs for its anti-clerical and anti-Tory tone;

returned to Ireland in 1694; Dublin MP, 1695; Irish Privy Councillor, 1697; Swords MP, 1703-05; English held seats in parliament, 1705-08; discharged as privy councillor 1713; led a compaign during 1717-19 for the repeal of the English Occasional Conformity and Schism acts [versus dissenters] and opposed the English parliaments claim to legislate for Ireland; created Baron Molesworth of Phillipstown and Viscount of Swords, 1719; translated Francis Hotoman’s Franco-Gallia (1711), better known by its later title, The Principles of a Real Whig (1775), a reply to the toryism of Steele and Swift; issued Some Considerations for the Promoting of Agriculture and Employing the Poor (1723), containing detailed recommendations for leasing and working of the land; privy councillor to George I;

among members of his ‘Circle’ were the the Irish Presbyterians James Arbuckle and Frances Hutcheson, associated with the ‘New Light’ movement, and figures such as Molyneux and John Toland; he was the dedicatee of Swift’s Fifth Drapier’s Letter; his dg. Mary Molesworth was an early ‘blue stocking’. RR CAB ODNB DIW OCEL FDA OCIL

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Criticism
Caroline Robbins, The Eighteenth-Century Commonwealthman (london 1961); David Berman, ‘The Irish Counter-Enlightnement’, in Richard Kearney, ed., The Irish Mind (Wolfhound 1985); M. A. Stewart, ‘John Smith and the Molesworth Circle’, Eighteenth-Century Ireland, II (1987). See also Richard Ryan, Biographia Hibernica: Irish Worthies (1821), Vol. II, pp.429-32.

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Commentary
Joseph Th. Leerssen, Mere Irish & Fior-Ghael: Studies in the Idea of Irish Nationality, Its Development and Literary Expression Prior To The Nineteenth Century (Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins Pub. Co. 1986), cites Molesworth’s Considerations for the promoting of agriculture (1723), as a result of which Swift inscribed a Drapier’s letter to him (p.351).

Seamus Deane’s Short History represents Hutcheson as a central figure in the Molesworth Circle

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References
Margaret Drabble, ed., The Oxford Companion to English Literature (OUP 1985), cites literary storm around his Account of Denmark, which extols the liberty of post-revolutionary England in comparison with clerically tyrannised Sweden; the work brought him to the notice of Lokce and led to a lifelong friendship with Shaftesbury; it was answered by William King in Animadversions upon the Pretended Account of Denmark, and defended by Steele in The Crisis, while Swift responded to the Account in The Public Spirit of the Whigs.

Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 1, p.955 calls him the father of Mary Molesworth, Mrs. Monk, author of Marinda [which he published after her death, in 1716]; further, his politico-philosophical treatise Denmark was praised by Shaftesbury; appt. privy councillor for Ireland to George I [r. 1714], and MP of both kingdoms; a patron of Molyneux, King, and Toland. FDA1 selects An Account of Denmark, 870-71, & BIOG, 955.

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Notes
Portrait: There is a portrait of the 2nd Viscount by Anthony Lee, 1744 [see Cruikshank and the Knight of Glin, Irish Portraits Mellon 1969].

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